E-commerce in Kenya: Copia Works!

I talked to my mum last week as she was on her way to refill her gas cylinder and could feel her pain thousands of miles away. LPG prices in Kenya have gone up by 16% as of 1st Jul 2021 due to the reintroduction of VAT on the commodity. Her budget was already stretched, having supplemented her fuel with eco-friendly briquettes.

Speaking to a friend recently, I came across Jiko Okoa by Burn Stoves which works really well with briquettes. I thought this would work really well for my mum and quickly went online to look for it. It is listed on all major Kenyan e-commerce sites including Jumia and Copia.

My elderly mum lives 7kms away from the nearest supermarket. There are small shops closer home, but prices and variety are not the best. Every so often she used to use a matatu to shop at the nearest supermarket where prices were better until Copia activated her locality.

Copia Agent Network in Kenya – Source: Copia

​​Three years ago while visiting home, we ran out of cooking oil and instead of sending someone to get a replacement, my mum said,

“If we can make this work for the night, I have cooking oil and other items arriving from Copia tomorrow morning.”

“What is Copia?” I asked.

She explained to me that she can pre-order items from Copia at a local shop and get them delivered in 1-2 days at no extra cost. Over time, Copia became part of her shopping routine because it saves her money and time. The Copia agent is nearby and she needs not worry about carrying her shopping over long distances.

When I saw the briquette stove on Copia, it was a no-brainer! But could I place an order while being thousands of miles away in a different country? I quickly created an account, added the item, and processed the transaction using my card.

At checkout, I had the option to declare that I was buying the item for someone else as was prompted for delivery details. An SMS and email confirmation was received and to calm myself, I opened up a customer support session to verify if the order had captured the recipient details via the live chat option. The agent quickly figured out that I was there to inquire about ordering, which I found rather appealing. She confirmed that all was well and I informed my mother at about half-past 8 that Friday morning.

“Because today is Friday, it’ll be here Monday morning,” she said assuredly.

At exactly 11am the same day, I received another SMS that my order was scheduled for delivery on Monday. And at 09:26am on Monday morning, another SMS confirmed that the order had been delivered to the agent for collection. Buried in my Monday morning work routine, I didn’t get to call my mum until in the afternoon.

“I got an SMS that the jiko was delivered at the agent this morning,” I announced.

She laughed then said,

“I picked it a long time ago. We’ve even used it to cook already!”

While I was amazed at Copia’s reliability and efficiency, she was really casual about it. I took a moment to think about it. A 79-year-old, semi-literate woman to whom e-commerce has become the norm. Although she doesn’t have a smartphone, she still shops online by placing orders on her account through the agent, then pays via M-PESA. She has no clue how digital her life is. I’m sure she never even pauses to think about the technology that makes all those things possible for her. 

Well-designed technology and systems significantly improve people’s lives without demanding much adjustment from them. Copia and M-PESA don’t demand high-end devices or literacy. They work seamlessly, especially at the bottom of the pyramid contexts.

In a country where delivery is a nightmare not only because of high costs but also lack of last-mile addressing systems,  the agent model, as seamlessly as it revolutionized banking, is proving itself revolutionary for e-commerce and Copia are leading the way.

Seated over 5000kms away, I was able to order something for my mum and have it delivered 200m from home, without breaking a sweat. Three days post-delivery, I received an SMS thanking me for shopping with Copia. They also asked how I learnt about Copia. The SMS provided 10 multiple choices and assurance that sending the answer back was free. The SMS was in Swahili, which shows inclusivity as more people would be able to read and respond compared to communicating in English. This is a service level I get in bigger cities with established e-commerce ecosystems, and for that, Copia deserves credit. They are truly living up to their slogan “Maisha rahisi”, because they’ve made my mum’s and my life easier.

The article is written by Wanjiku Njuguna

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